Copy-protected CDs take step forward

For the first time in the United States, BMG Music is releasing a disc that's loaded with anticopying protection, a move that opens a new round of experimentation for record labels.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
2 min read
For the first time in the United States, BMG Music will release a music CD that's loaded with anticopying protection, a move that opens a new round of technological experimentation for record labels.

BMG division Arista Records will include "copy management" protections produced by SunnComm Technologies on soul artist Anthony Hamilton's new album, the company said Friday. Although the label has previously released promotional copies of various CDs with copy protection, this will be the first major test of consumers' reaction to the latest generation of the anticopying technology.

"The consumer experience is BMG's top priority," BMG Chief Strategic Officer Thomas Hesse said. "Because of improvements in the?technology, it is now possible to offer consumers the level of flexibility to which they have become accustomed, while beginning to better protect our artists' rights."

Though unlikely to signal an immediate flood of similar releases, BMGs actions do open a new chapter for the United States labels' flirtation with copy-proof CDs.

Most major labels have said they are deeply interested in technologies from companies such as SunnComm and rival Macrovision, but they've been concerned enough about compatibility problems with various computers and consumer electronics, along with consumer backlash issues, to refrain from many releases in the United States.

By contrast, Macrovision says elsewhere in the world--primarily Europe and Japan--more than 150 million discs have been manufactured with its copy-protection technology.

The new generation of anticopying techniques is more sophisticated than early methods. Along with simple locks that prevent CD ripping and copying, the Hamilton disc includes computer-ready files that can be transferred to a PC, a Macintosh computer and many MP3 players.

Unlike the MP3 files traditionally created from unprotected CDs, these "pre-ripped" files will be wrapped in their own digital rights management protections that keep them from being swapped online and restrict some other actions. Buyers will be able to burn three copies of these songs onto their own CDs, however. The disc will also provide a link that can be shared with other people, who can download copies of the album's music and then listen to it for 10 days.

Analysts said the news did signal a more advanced round of experimentation but that it would likely be some time before large numbers of copy-protected albums were released in the United States.

"I would think the industry would not want to do a major rollout now, given what's happening with the (recording industry's) lawsuits," said independent digital media analyst Phil Leigh, citing the Recording Industry Association of America's legal push against file swappers earlier this week. "That would be a second major aggressive action. I would think they would do these things one at a time."

The Anthony Hamilton album, called "Comin' From Where I'm From," will be released Sept. 23.